Text by MARC JAYSON CAYABYAB, VERA Files
Photos and video by VINCENT GO, VERA Files
LINGAYEN, Pangasinan—It was sweet victory for athletes who competed in the annual Palarong Pambansa special games.
For the 320 or so persons with disabilities (PWDs), taking part in the Palaro meant being able to show the world that PWD athletes could be as competitive as anyone else, and that they need not be sidelined because of their disabilities.
PWD athletes aged 10 to 33 battled it out in the special games category of the fifth Palarong Pambansa from May 6 to 10. The rest of the games end on May 12.
Region VI or Western Visayas won as the over-all champion with 75 points. The Ilocos region was second with 60 points, while Davao region placed third with 52 points.
Other regions that participated in the special games are Calabarzon (Region IV-A), Northern Mindanao, National Capital Region (NCR), Zamboanga Peninsula, Central Luzon, Mimaropa (Region IV-B) and SOCCSKSARGEN (Region XII).
The intellectually disabled (ID) joined the games of bocce, shot put, relay and running long jump, while the visually impaired (VI) participated in shot put, standing long jump and relay. Meanwhile, the orthopedically handicapped (OH) and ID geared for the swimming event.
The special games were held at the Narciso Ramos Sports and Civic Center here, except for swimming which was held at the Dagupan Poolsite.
Dennis Esta, executive director of the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA), said the annual Palaro gives opportunities to PWDs — who he said are often set aside during physical activities due to their disabilities — to engage in "paralympic sports."
As member of the special events committee of the Palaro, Esta said the special games remained competitive because PWDs athletes should be given equal treatment as people without disabilities.
"Pinapakita na nila na hindi porke't may kapansanan ay wala na silang kumpetensiya dito sa sports (The PWD athletes in the Palaro were able to show that they can be competitive)," Esta said.
Maria Teresa Caritatibo, coach of the Western Visayas swimmers, said the team's victory in the Palaro developed athletes' "self-concept." The region bagged three golds in the swimming category.
"Meron silang naipakitang skills, mga talento. Dyan makikita natin na kahit ano ka man may worth ka talaga (Our athletes were able to show their skills and talents. Here we will see that those with disability can still have self worth)," Caritatibo said.
Joaquin Abellera, head of delegation of the Region I Department of Education Special Education (SpEd), said the region's second place finish proved to be an opportunity for its PWD athletes to excel in their sports.
Roy Enriquez, Davao region SpEd coordinator, said their winners served as models for the other PWDs athletes in the region.
"They were able to prove that they have also the skills to compete with other regions," Enriquez said.
Western Visayas' swimming bet, 27-year-old Tanya Denamarca who has Down syndrome, won the gold in free style, breast stroke and back stroke. "Happy na ako (I'm happy)," she said.
Region VI bet for relay and shot put Alden Jimenez said he was motivated by the prize he was promised once he wins: his own cellular phone.
"I can call my siblings at home," the 15-year-old Jimenez said in Bisaya. He won first place in the 100-meter relay for intellectually disabled ages 15 and below, and second place in shot put.
For 16-year-old Gary Bejino of NCR, his disability was no hindrance for him to swim his fastest in the Palaro. He won the gold in the 50-meter breast stroke, back stroke and free style for the orthopedically handicapped.
Bejino lost one arm and leg after being shocked in an electrical post when he was seven years old. He said that despite his disability, he was able to win in the competition by swimming his best with his remaining arm and leg.
"Wala na nga yung isa mong kamay at paa so kelangang mapagcombine mo pa rin ung dalawa para mapabilis ang langoy mo (I don't have an arm and a leg so I need to combine my remaining limbs to swim fast)," Bejino said.
The Palarong Pambansa is organized by the Department of Education in partnership with PHILSPADA. The Palaro first started in 2008 in Palawan, with four regions who participated in special events category. The category composed of swimming, bocce, goal ball and athletics.
(VERA Files is a partner of the "Fully Abled Nation" campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)